Chapter One Foundation Limited is a non-governmental organization that promotes and protects human rights, human rights defenders, constitutionalism, social justice, and the rule of law in Zambia, primarily through strategic litigation, advocacy, and capacity building. Our aim is to promote and protect the Constitution and the rights included in it and by so doing, free the space for Zambians to fully participate in the democratic governance of the country.
Under Article 9(2) of the Constitution, the Republican President is required to report to the National Assembly the progress being made towards the application of the national values and principles which are as follows:
a) Morality and ethics
b) Patriotism and national unity
c) Democracy and constitutionalism
d) Human dignity, equity, social justice, equality, and non-discrimination
e) Good governance and integrity; and
f) Sustainable development
Under Article 9(1) of the Constitution, the national values and principles are meant to guide the interpretation of the Constitution, the enactment and interpretation of the law, and the development and implementation of State policy. Chapter One Foundation would like to comment on the address to Parliament by His Excellency President Hakainde Hichilema on the application of the national values and principles made on Friday 11th March 2022.
Morality and Ethics
The President highlighted the high prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse, child marriages, teenage pregnancies, gender-based violence, corruption, and abuse of information and communication technology (ICT) and social media.
We commend government’s efforts to tackle alcohol and substance abuse through its National Alcohol Policy and rehabilitation initiatives in every province. This is particularly important in view of the high levels of youth unemployment.
Regarding the abuse of ICT and social media, we agree that there is need to curb vices that are perpetuated in the digital space such as hate speech and cyberbullying, however such measures must be made in line with constitutional provisions that protect legitimate forms of expression. Laws such as the Cyber Security and Cybercrimes Act must uphold the right to freedom of expression. In addition, we must ensure that internet shutdowns or slow downs must become a thing of the past. Laws such as defamation of the President and criminal defamation must be removed from our statute books as they have tended to be targeted towards political opponents.
Child marriages and teenage pregnancies continue to affect the girl child disproportionately in terms of access to education, health complications, and entrenched poverty. We support the moves towards criminalizing child marriages however, we would like to stress that more emphasis needs to be placed on the root causes of these problems i.e., access to education and improved opportunities for parents to earn a decent living.
Gender-based violence continues to be a huge problem in Zambia with women being disproportionately affected. We note the 22.1% drop in the number of reported cases between 2021 and 2022, however, we need to ensure that it is not due to underreporting. We urge the government to make efforts to increase the number of one-stop centers and to sensitise the officials that are meant to serve victims of gender-based violence, such as police offices and health workers, to be sensitive to the trauma inflicted by such crimes.
Patriotism and National Unity
We agree with the President’s assertion that patriotism means putting the country first. We would like to state that includes expressing dissent against positions taken by the government. We believe that no one should be labelled an enemy of the State for expressing views on matters of national interest in line with the constitutional right to freedom of expression and any other relevant laws. Participation in national governance is the duty of every citizen and subsequently an inclusive approach should be taken to national leadership. We equally concur with the President that the era of divisive politics based on ethnic, political, religious, or other social factors must come to an end. We further commend the President for his efforts towards stamping out cadreism and political violence. Indeed, this vice instilled fear amongst the citizenry and put selfish partisan interests above those of the nation.
Democracy and Constitutionalism
We agree with the President’s assertion that the people of Zambia are the supreme political authority in Zambia and that subsequently, our elected officials are our servants. We support the government’s commitment to “creating a level playing field where democracy can thrive and [creating] an environment in which political actors freely compete on ideas, convictions, and service”. That is what democracy entails. We commend the government of the violent-free by-elections held in Kabwata constituency in Lusaka, Liangati Ward in Senanga, and Sokontwe Ward in Milenge.
Elections are the critical part of any democracy as they are a direct expression of the will of the people. We note that fact that the government will lobby for the abolishment of by-elections to save on costs. We are of the view that democracy by its very nature is not cheap as it is a participative and inclusive process. We look forward to seeing the alternative that will be proposed by the government. Any such alternative must uphold the will of the people.
We equally look forward to the rolling out of continuous voter registration, as prescribed by the Electoral Process Act, and national registration card registration across the country. This process is critical to ensuring that Zambians can access their constitutional right to vote.
On constitutional reform, we look forward to a participative and inclusive process that address the will and aspirations of the Zambian people. Essential to this process is the enactment of a legislative framework that protects the process and the final content of draft constitution that will be presented to the people of Zambia. This will ensure that the process and content are not hijacked by political interests that are inimical to the will of the people as has occurred in the past.
The Public Order Act has been a thorn in the flesh of ordinary Zambians whose attempts to gather and to express divergent views to those of the government have been frustrated over successive governments. We look forward to seeing a Public Order Bill that upholds and facilitates the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and promotes participation in governance matters.
Human Dignity, Equity, Social Justice, Equality, and Non-Discrimination
We note that the President’s remarks under the heading of equity, equality, and non-discrimination were very brief. We believe that more needs to be said by the government on how it intends to address the lack of diversity in public appointments with respect to gender equality and equitable representation of youth and persons with disabilities at all levels of government. We would like to see the Gender Equity and Equality Act fully operationalized, and we would like a greater understanding of how the new arrangement of placing gender matters under the Office of the President is going to assist with gender mainstreaming.
Youth unemployment is a pressing issue which equally a very challenging problem to solve in the face of significant economic challenges. We commend the governments efforts to increase the allocation for the constituency development fund (CDF) in every constituency from K1.6 million to K25.7 million. This will go a long way towards alleviating social issues in each constituency. We concur with the President that the promotion of investor and public sector growth is pivotal strategy efforts to create jobs for our young people, especially as not all of them are suited to entrepreneurship.
We commend the government’s efforts to make education more accessible all across the country. The increase in the numbers of pupils attending school is encouraging. However, we look forward to seeing how the employment and deployment of 30,000 teachers and infrastructure development will reduce the teacher-pupil ratio for better quality education.
Good Governance and Integrity
We were delighted to hear the President pronounce that his government is “determined to see to it that all those entrusted with public affairs management must be responsible, accountable, and transparent”. We wish to take this opportunity to remind the government that only two out of the thirty-eight public officials subject to the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct have fully complied with the requirement under Section 10 of the Code of Conduct to declare their assets, liabilities, and sources of income. This legal requirement has been put in place to ensure that those at the highest levels of government set the example of transparency and accountability regarding the declaration of liabilities and sources income and assets acquired whilst they are in office. This will promote good governance and integrity and more importantly prevent corruption. We urge the Speaker, Deputy Speakers, and all Ministers to lead by example.
With regard to the strengthening of public financial management and procurement, we look forward to seeing the enactment of a law to replace the now defunct Loans and Guarantees Act which governed the contraction of public loans and guarantees on behalf of the Zambian people. This is important because since the constitutional amendments made in 2016, Zambia’s debt contraction has gone without public scrutiny by Parliament which has led to the high amount of debt that Zambia is currently faced with. It is absolutely essential that this law is put in place in the shortest possible time to promote transparency and accountability in the contraction of national debt.
We agree with the President that “climate change continues to threaten the sustainable development of our country”. The shifting weather patterns have brought with them drought, floods, homelessness, and hunger. We commend the efforts of the disaster management unit under the Vice-President’s office to address these difficult challenges. We commend the government for having planted 5,854.7 hectares of trees in the period under review and we agree that more needs to be done not only to plant more trees but to address the causes of deforestation. We would equally like to see the preservation of our forest reserves and national parks which are a part of our natural heritage which must be conserved for future generations.
In conclusion, democracy requires the full participation of all our citizens. It demands inclusivity, transparency, and accountability. We commend the government for its efforts towards addressing these issues to-date but also urge them to do more to address the pressing needs of our citizenry, particularly with regard to youth, women, and persons living with disabilities. We shall continue to monitor the government’s progress and to highlight issues of concern that must be addressed.